Is pro­tein pow­der your work­out saviour?

Good ques­tion. WH cuts through the fit­ness froth to get the low­down

Women's Health Australia - - CONTENTS -

Load of froth or the best thing since sliced steak? It’s time for the truth

You reg­u­larly smash one af­ter a work­out. Your best mate has a scoop’s worth sit­ting in her shaker, and they’re pop­ping up in gyms ev­ery­where. The Com­ple­men­tary Medicines In­dus­try Sur­vey found pro­tein pow­ders were the most pop­u­lar sports medicine prod­ucts in Oz, gen­er­at­ing $272 mil­lion worth of sales in a year. As a tub and scoop are now ev­ery­day essentials for fit­ness fans, ques­tions are be­ing asked about the body claims pro­duc­ers make. So we called in the ex­perts for a lit­tle ad­vice.

The full scoop

So why all the buzz around pro­tein? “It’s a macronu­tri­ent that pro­vides amino acids, which join to­gether to cre­ate and main­tain mus­cle, bone, hor­mones and skin,” says Dr Graeme Close, pro­fes­sor of hu­man phys­i­ol­ogy at Liver­pool John

Moores Univer­sity. “Think of them like Lego blocks. When the mus­cles are dam­aged through ex­er­cise, the Lego builders are ready to re­build, but they can only work if you give them blocks,” he adds. Train mus­cles with­out ad­e­quate amino acids and you leave them with no op­tion but to break down. “They’re so de­ter­mined to build those mus­cu­lar walls, they’ll break down ex­ist­ing mus­cle to ac­cess the amino acids re­quired.” So, fo­cus­ing on in­creas­ing your pro­tein in­take as you up your train­ing is a no-brainer.

In an ideal world, you’d get this pro­tein from whole foods – meat, eggs, seafood, dairy, beans and pulses – but un­less you’re down with drop­ping half your salary in the lo­cal butcher’s, the ease and speed of pro­tein pow­der is its great­est sell­ing point. “Pro­tein pow­der isn’t some weird ar­ti­fi­cial sub­stance – it’s just an iso­lated part of the food,” says sports nu­tri­tion­ist Drew Price. “And when it comes to mus­cle growth and re­pair, 30g of pro­tein from a shake is as good as the equiv­a­lent amount from a chicken breast.”

Shake on it

But the big ques­tion for many of us? How much do you ac­tu­ally need? If you’re re­ally into strength train­ing, Close rec­om­mends you con­sume 1.5g pro­tein per kilo­gram of body weight ev­ery day. So, if you weigh in at 60kg, you’d be putting away 90g of pro­tein a day. Car­dio fan? “Run­ners would need less; say, 1.2g pro­tein per kilo­gram of body mass,” says Close, be­cause car­dio doesn’t dam­age the mus­cle fi­bres as much.

Some ex­perts ar­gue pro­tein supps are pointless, in­sist­ing women only need 10 per cent of their kilo­joule in­take from pro­tein (roughly 0.8g per kilo­gram of body weight), but Close dis­agrees. “Gen­eral rec­om­mended in­takes are based on seden­tary peo­ple,” he ar­gues. “Women who train reg­u­larly have dif­fer­ent needs.”

When you have your pro­tein is im­por­tant, too. If you sink it straight af­ter a healthy, pro­tein-rich meal, Close says you’re wast­ing your time. “Your body will take the pro­tein it needs from both – roughly 30g – and ex­crete the rest as urea. It’s best to sup­ply your mus­cles with a steady stream of amino acids.” His ad­vice? Cal­cu­late the daily pro­tein you need, di­vide that amount by four and con­sume a por­tion ev­ery three or four hours. Easy done.

But what of all the shoul­der-press pros down­ing their shakes post­ses­sion, ea­ger to make the most of that 30-minute win­dow when your body utilises pro­tein most ef­fi­ciently? Well, the the­ory be­hind that is still up for dis­cus­sion. “It’s non­sense,” ar­gues Price. “We know the an­abolic re­sponse to train­ing – the body’s abil­ity to in­crease mus­cle syn­the­sis – lasts for 24 hours.”

Close agrees the con­cept is a myth. “Hu­mans would never have evolved to cre­ate a mech­a­nism that meant by the time a hunter-gath­erer got home with their prey, the nu­tri­ents were no longer use­ful or ad­e­quately metabolised by the body.” Got it!

Choose your fuel

With so many op­tions burst­ing of the su­per­mar­ket shelf, which pow­der to choose can be tricky. If you’re lift­ing weights, whey re­mains the ex­perts’ first choice: 2016 re­search in the jour­nal Nu­tri­ents found whey to be the eas­i­est pro­tein supp source for your body to utilise. “It con­tains 13 per cent leucine, an amino acid that trig­gers the process of mus­cle pro­tein syn­the­sis,” says Price. “It ba­si­cally flicks the ‘on’ switch to build new mus­cle tis­sue.”

Whey pro­tein is avail­able in three forms, all with vary­ing de­grees of ef­fi­cacy. Whey con­cen­trate of­fers the low­est pro­tein con­tent and is the cheap­est op­tion; whey isolate has 99 per cent of the lac­tose re­moved, so it tends to be a bet­ter choice for those with in­tol­er­ances; and then there’s hy­drox­y­late, made up of 95 per cent pre-di­gested pro­tein – it’s the most eas­ily ab­sorbed, but has the price tag to go with it.

With those cre­den­tials, why aren’t we all down­ing whey? Well, for ve­gans and those fol­low­ing a plant­based diet, whey won’t do. Plus, some peo­ple who aren’t dairy or lac­tose in­tol­er­ant might still suf­fer painful bloat­ing. “It’s likely that, even for peo­ple who can nor­mally tol­er­ate milk, the quan­tity of whey pro­tein in ev­ery scoop is too much to eas­ily di­gest,” says Price. “You’d never eat the amount of Greek yo­ghurt nec­es­sary to con­sume

30g of dairy pro­tein in one sit­ting.”

Of the plant-based al­ter­na­tives – such as hemp, rice or pea – is there a top pick? Ex­perts say you’re best off try­ing a few and mak­ing your choice based on pro­tein con­tent and taste. “Ve­gan pro­teins don’t have a com­plete es­sen­tial amino acid pro­file,” says Price. “Hemp, for ex­am­ple, con­tains half the amount of leucine as whey. And even pea pro­tein, which is higher in leucine than other plant op­tions, lacks amino acids like glu­tamine, which main­tains the body’s acid bal­ance, and argi­nine, needed for tis­sue re­pair.” So if you’re lift­ing heavy, you might need to up your pro­tein­rich whole foods. Hap­pily, brands are look­ing to blend plant pro­teins to cre­ate pow­ders with a more rounded amino acid pro­file, which will aid mus­cle build­ing as ef­fec­tively as whey. Clever!

Don’t worry about chop­ping and chang­ing while you search for the best op­tion. “Al­ter­nat­ing be­tween two or three types lessens the risk of over­load­ing your sys­tem and de­vel­op­ing a sen­si­tiv­ity,” says Price.

The fine print

Lastly, once you’ve cho­sen your pro­tein source, check the la­bel for any nu­tri­tional deal-break­ers. The most ob­vi­ous is the ac­tual pro­tein con­tent. “The pow­der should be at least 70 per cent pro­tein,” says Price. Lengthy in­gre­di­ents lists are also a no-go. “Go un­flavoured and you’ll find prod­ucts with just the pro­tein source and an emul­si­fier,” says Price. Ex­perts are di­vided on whether ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers should be ve­toed, but to play it safe, choose a blend nat­u­rally sweet­ened with ste­via or katemfe fruit ex­tract.

What about those art­fully pack­aged pouches boosted with in­gre­di­ents like maca and green tea? “They’re gen­er­ally the same thing, plus some un­proven ‘su­per­food’ ex­tras,” says Close.

It’s also best to hold back on pow­ders sold as meal re­place­ments. “When you con­sume pro­tein pow­der, you’re not get­ting any of the fat-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins or healthy fats you’d find in, say, eggs or salmon,” ex­plains Price. Close agrees. “First, try to hit that quota from food, and if there are any gaps – or times when it’s just not re­al­is­tic to do so – then add a pro­tein shake or bar.” Got it? Shake on.



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